Meet Alem Reed - black hair, brown eyes, and a bad temper.
After getting kicked out of five high schools for fighting, Alem’s goal of getting a high school diploma was destroyed; that is, until he is asked to attend a secretive new school.
However, when he discovers that the new school is filled with creatures that aren’t human, (and view you as a potentially delicious snack) tough boy Alem needs every fight skill, dry comment, and ounce of wit he’s got if he is going to survive his senior year.
Chapter Six: Of Plain Schools and Fast Walking
“Alem? What the hell are you doing still in bed?” A monster roared.
I vaguely recognized the said monster's voice and quickly turned my back to it. I pulled a pillow over my head to block it out. Five minutes. It could eat me in five minutes. All I want is five more minutes of sleep. Is that so wrong?
“Alem? Alem!” This time the monster dared to shake my shoulder. Aggravated, I tried to shrug it off, which just made the demon shake me harder. Hissing thorough my teeth, I rolled back intending to glared at the tall shadowy figure that stood over me but my eyes were too crusty.
My old man pressed his lips in annoyance. “Go away.” I snapped at him; I hoped he would sense my fury and let me get some more sleep. I think the old fart rolled his eyes. “Disappear. Disappear. Disappear,” I prayed repeatedly in my mind.
In a much calmer voice Pops said, “The car will be here in 20 minutes.”
“What car?” I asked confused.
“The car that's picking you up for that new school you're going to? Does that ring a bell?” Pops massaged his forehead.
Then everything fell into place: Nicu Ibunku, the new school, mean rich kids, and a ton of paperwork.
“Oh, crap.” I sprang out the bed and rushed to the shower.
“Oh, crap is right!” Pops shouted at my back.
So I'm not a morning person. Bite me. The sallow morning sun shone deep into my newly awoken eye sockets while Pop stuffed my bag in the trunk of a shiny black car.
My clothes were sticky and wet. They clung to me tightly in places where they shouldn’t. I had to shift my jewels around quite a few times in order to get comfortable in my own skin. This was bothersome, but it wasn't as nearly as vexing as my hair.
I didn't have the time to dry it off properly; therefore, my hair had decided it was a good time to declare war on my scalp. It was painful to brush it back and for all my efforts it still ended up looking like a mini afro puff. I really needed to cut my hair soon or else I would end up looking like one of those throwbacks from the seventies.
I narrowed my eyes to try and identify what type of car it was. I was annoyed because I didn’t recognize the model. This generally meant only one of two things: either it was a brand new model that just came out, or it was extremely expensive and very rare. I started grinding my teeth. I was going to have to learn to avoid these feelings of bitterness and envy now.
The driver was a pale middle-aged bald guy. Exactly what I thought Mr. Ibunku would have looked like before I actually met him. He was slightly overweight and wore a basic black uniform resembling a suit. It reminded me of the uniform that the butler wore on the TV sitcom, The Fresh Prince. The guy looked at me and I summed up his mental reflexes. Deciding immediately that conversation with the driver would not be very stimulating; I chose to sleep on the way to Harmony.
“Alem,” Pop's soft voice interrupted my will to drift off to sleep.
I was overwhelmed at that instant: panic, sadness, excitement, nervousness, anxiety, shock, apathy, and disbelief. It was a flood of emotion, yet nothing could describe what I felt. The closest thing to describe it was like feeling lost, as if I had fallen into a rabbit hole that no one knew existed. How can things change so fast? I was leaving home and it was all so sudden that I could hardly believe it.
I slowly turned to face my old man and his eyes looked moist. A shiver shot down my spine. No, I hope it wasn’t a sign of tears soon to come. It horrified me. I would rather have a sharp knife slash my stomach then see tears. I hated tears. Why was it suddenly so hard to breathe?
“Alem, my little boy! I can't believe you're leaving me so suddenly!” Pops grabbed me into a bone-crushing hug. My breathing problem worsened. He held me so tightly. Don't cry, Dad. Don’t you dare cry. Please stop crying, Pops.
I grasped and tried to wiggle free. It didn't work. “Hey, old man, Pops, don’t...I can't...” Pops didn't hear me and he squeezed me tighter. How exactly did his bony self suddenly achieve this level of strength? I felt a few drops of wetness fall on top of my head and the desire to wiggle free left me. My breath and my heartbeat stopped. Against me, I could feel my father shaking. I stood as still as possible. This was too much.
“Why are my eyes so dry while my heart feels like its drowning?” Why did I suddenly remember her sentence?
After a while, Dad let go of me and straightened up his back. He wiped his face. They were still sad but they weren't as watery as before. That’s good but I still felt extremely uncomfortable.
“Try to call me often, okay?” Dad said, his voice thick.
My lungs tightened again. I nearly wheezed. “Absolutely, please do not worry.”
We stared at each other for a long moment. It was as if he thought he would never see me again. Why did it feel like that? Surely, I would see him this coming weekend; it wasn't as if the school was on another continent. It was in the city, up-town, but city nonetheless. I gave him my thumps up. “I'll see you soon, Dad. How about I see you this weekend, okay? Jeez, it's not like you won't see me again!”
The corners of his mouth turned up in a smile, but his eyes told another story.
The driver coughed. “Um, may we go now?”
I nodded my head. I didn't look back at Pops. I just got into the car. I could feel his eyes still on me. It felt like he was silently wishing me goodbye. But that was crazy! I would see him on the weekend. Damn it all! The school wasn't that far away! He didn't need to act like it was some big thing. Sure, it was a boarding school but I'm sure that if I wiggle my way around it, I could get Principal Ibunku to arrange something. He was practically kissing my butt yesterday! Surely, he'll help me out. It seemed that the old man wasn't quite so ready to let me go just yet.
I didn't know what to think about that. Part of me was kind of outraged, but another part of me was not so outraged. Either way, I felt sure I could work something out with Ibunku. Therefore, I refused to say good-bye to the old man. I had thought it through and I just didn't see the need. It's not because I'm a jerk, it just that I didn't see the need really. I was going to see him again and soon. So what was the point? There was no need to say good-bye if I was going to see him again. Good-byes are for final things.
The driver roared up the engines and soon I could no longer feel Dad's eyes on me. I would see him on the weekend. It was only three days away anyway.
The sky became slightly cloudy again.
After one unsuccessful attempt to talk to my driver, I fell quickly asleep. Traffic was monstrous and the light rainy drizzle didn't help things. I don't know how long I was asleep. It was not the greatest of things I could have done but whatever. I was still very tired from last night and the draining day I had the previous day.
When I felt the car stop, I opened my eyes. “We are here,” the driver said and he quickly jumped out of the car to get my bag from the trunk. I wobbled out and followed the guy to the sidewalk. He handed me my duffel bag and I swung it around my shoulders.
“Goodbye, sir.” He said and hopped back into his unknown vehicle and drove off abruptly. He didn’t waste any time, that one. I pulled my hair back and turned around to take my first look at the rich kids' school.
“What the hell?” I said out loud. I was greatly disappointed. Come to think of it, I don't know what I had been expecting, but this certainly wasn't it. The gates were plain and the red brick building behind them wasn't anything special. The small front lawn was brown and had a few dying trees sprinkle sparely around. The only thing that stood out were the two golden letters, I and H, on the school's otherwise plain gate. I guess they stood for the school's initials.
I said it again. “What the hell?” Shouldn't the school be a bit more luxurious? Shouldn’t it at least look like something important? Where was the bling; those blazing signs and symbols of money and extravagance? The last school I attended was nicer than this; at least it was big and had semi-green grass! From the way Mr. Ibunku acted yesterday, I thought I was headed to Buckingham Palace!
Frowning, I stepped up to the gate and pushed it open. It didn't move an inch. I tried again, breathing a little harder as I pushed, but it still wouldn't budge. I sighed. It had to be electronic then. I searched around for what could possibly be the intercom but couldn't find a thing. “How exactly was I going to…” I was thinking to myself when I heard the voice.
“Ah, hello there!” It was a cheery voice and I nearly jumped two feet.
Clutching my heart, I swung myself to the owner of the voice that nearly gave me a heart attack. What was his problem? You don't sneak up on people like that! I was going to kill this guy! I turned around and opened my mouth to give the big idiot a piece of my mind. That was when Mr. Ibunku gave me another one of his beaming smiles and I was blind.
“Alem! Welcome to the Institution of Harmony! Classes will not begin for another six hours.” I raised my eyebrow. Shouldn't class be going on now? “Let's get you settled in.” Mr. Ibunku said.
“Um.” I said.
Mr. Ibunku walked forward and pushed opened the gate. He did it as easily as if he was pushing a feather. My eyes widened at the ease with which he had just opened the gate. I had just tried it and it didn’t budge.
“Is there a problem, Alem?” Mr. Ibunku asked, his eyes were worried. “You haven't changed your mind about attending our school, have you?”
“What? There’s no way!” I gave a start. I wanted this guy to take me seriously but my brain felt distinctly disorganized. “It's nothing. I just have a headache!” I lied. “It’s just a small headache. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“You already have a headache? But you haven't even crossed the gate yet!” Mr. Ibunku said surprised.
What does that have to do with anything, and why was my gut flaring up? For some odd reason, a faint alarm bell started to go off in my head. I didn’t understand why. My gut only feels this way when I’m about to do something stupid, but how can that be possible in this situation? I decided to ignore the feeling and I pushed it to the back of my mind. I shifted my duffel bag to support it more on the middle of my back and I followed him.
As I walked towards him, Mr. Ibunku was watching me very closely. He was probably still worried about the headache that I didn't really have. “Damn it. Learn to pretend, Alem,” I said silently to myself. I rubbed my forehead as though it was really hurting me. That turned out to be a mistake too. Mr. Ibunku looked alarmed. “Oh dear! Alem? Are you sure that you're all right? Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe you should return to your world,” Mr. Ibunku said, completely disturbed.
It surprised me that he would give up on me after one headache. “I’m fine, sir. I promise. I'll just take an aspirin when I get to my room. I have headaches all the time. This one isn't any worse than usual.” I lied again. My gut twisted. I don't really like lying. It never sat well with me. However, I dug this grave, and I would be a hypocrite if I refused to sleep in it. So I told myself that I should just continue lying because my diploma depended on it!
“I'm fine sir, really.” He didn't look convinced but he continued to walk forward.
The lawn was slightly bigger than what I originally thought but it still wasn’t much. Mr. Ibunku kept shooting me worried glances as we walked to the main door. It annoyed me a bit but a thought suddenly hit me like lighting. I remembered what my dad had said last night: this guy had been in love with my mother. That was when the nature of the problem hit me.
I pretended not to notice his glances and looks of concern, but it was starting to make me more and more uncomfortable. Was he aware that I knew that he had been in love with my mother? Or, maybe my mother wasn't the reason he was looking at me so much. Maybe he thought I was going to faint over the shock and beauty of Harmony.
What a joke! This place was a dump! I've seen funeral parlors more remarkable than this place was. Funeral parlors, my late mother, and a guy who once loved her, I rubbed my head for real this time. Damn, I needed a cigarette. The lack of nicotine was making me stupid and I did not want to deal with all of this newness right then. As we moved closer to the main entrance of the school, the large double doors looked just as dumpy as everything else on campus. They were dirty and plain. At that time, my doubts had increased exponentially. I didn’t understand how someone could regard this place as an exclusive, elite institution for the privileged few.
Then another thought hit me like a ton of brinks. Could this school be one of those schools for the mentally handicapped? The government did not typically maintain the looks of those schools and judging by the state of this campus, my mind started to raced. The idea made sense, but the thought nearly stopped my heart, and a wave of abrupt physical and mental exhaustion hit me.
“Oh, crap. Maybe it was. Maybe Mr. Ibunku thought I was mentally disabled, and damn it! They lied to me. What if I can’t get out of this crappy place?” I was thinking to myself, when I heard Mr. Ibunku calling my name.
“Alem? Alem? Alem!” Ibunku shook my shoulder. “Are you truly all right? You look like you just saw a mortal enemy. What is the matter?”
I just stared at him. My thoughts were wildly spinning out of control. I tried to shut them up. I really needed to sleep. I was obviously not thinking clearly. Now, I was actually having a real headache. I rubbed my head. I needed sleep immediately. I also needed a cigarette, or two. That would come later, sleep was what I needed right then. “I'm fine, sir. Is it okay if I just get to my room and sleep a bit until class starts? I’m a bit tired.”
“Oh! You’re tired. Yes, well, I nearly forgot about that! And with your long journey too!” Mr. Ibunku quickly pushed opened the double doors and walked down the hallway. He seemed to be floating down the hallway. I blinked my eyes in confusion as I jogged after him. Everything around me was a burr and I had the most unusual feeling of rising high into the air. My stomach flip-flopped. I felt dizzy. Mr. Ibunku was talking and it was hard to focus on what he was saying. I tried to follow him but my legs were starting to burn. Why was he walking so fast? How could he walk so fast?
“Let me get you to your room. It’s already prepared and it’s close to the Orangian quarters. It will only be you in that room but your neighbor is somewhat friendly, especially since its Tarascus. He even volunteered to help watch over you for your stay here. A good boy, I think,” Mr. Ibunku said. Everything around me was a blur and I couldn‘t focus on anything. I desperately wanted to yell at him but my gut twisted and I felt like throwing up. Slow down you speed demon; this isn’t a freaking race! But regardless of my mental cursing, Mr. Ibunku kept right on talking and walking. I ignored half of what was coming out of his mouth and concentrated on keeping up with him.
My legs tingled and my head started to pound viciously. I couldn’t possibly be so out-of-shape that some middle-age principal could out-walk me? I do one hundred and fifty spider push-ups daily. Yet, Mr. Ibunku gained three feet on me. What is going on here? Just trying to keep up was a murderous test of endurance.
After many flights of stairs, doors, and another long hallway, Mr. Ibunku came to a sudden stop. I nearly crashed into him. He beamed another one of those smiles at me and said, “Wow! You can keep up with me! That’s amazing! This is good!” I stared at him. Did he say that was good? Had he been walking fast intentionally? “I think I’d like to take your paperwork now if you don’t mind. Originally I wanted to discuss a few things with you but I’ll wait until after you’ve rested.”
It took all the restraint I could muster, not to flip him the middle finger. Holding back my huffing and puffing, I resisted that urge and violently dropped my duffel bag on the floor. My palms were damp with sweat as I searched through my bag for the cursed papers.
On finding them, I shoved them in his hand. Mr. Ibunku smiled again and reached into his pocket to hand me a strange golden key. “This is your room key, Alem. Keep it with you at all times. It’s the only one of its kind and if you lose it, well, that will be very troublesome! But don’t worry about it! I’ll talk to you later! Have a good rest!” And then he turned around and left.
Then there was silence. I think that man is insane. Sighing, I shoved the oddly shaped key into the socket until I heard a clink sound, then I turned the key, and pushed the door open. Not caring about anything else around me, I saw a bed in the center of the room and walked as quickly as I could towards it. I slammed the door behind me.
I was completely exhausted and I had no idea why. I looked at my watch and saw that it was noon. Only two hours have passed? Why am I so tired then? Did that strange speed-walk really wear me out so much? My headache was now worse than before, and man, I was hungry, truly ravenous.
I was sleepy, in pain, tobacco-starved, and hungry. Plus, I was getting the feeling that Mr. Ibunku has a hidden agenda for bringing me here. My brain whirled. The place was hell. Now, if I could think, what would be the most important thing for me to do at that particular moment?
Sleep it was. Again, I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.